A pest? An agitator? A firebrand, a mischief-maker, a rabble-rouser? If you call yourself a leader, you’d better be.  

 Great leaders – the ones who pop up to challenge and change the worlds of business, politics, science, and culture – aren’t always easy to be around, particularly for those who love predictability and smooth sailing. Great leaders don’t stand still, don’t embrace the status quo, and don’t settle. Great leaders will pull something apart just to see how it works – then put it back together in a whole different way, to see if that works better.  They make messes. They make mistakes. But they also make breakthroughs. 

Disruptive leadership is not about just analysing customer needs or creating specific cases to meet each need, nor is it about building great products and services to meet them. Leading through disruption involves determining what one values and where one wants to make a difference, both in what we do and how we do it.  What defines a genuine disruptor?

 1. What’s in it for you? Disruptive innovations come from people and organizations who innovate for themselves because they want to make a difference for others. Ask yourself if you are in business to delight your customers or to make money. I hope your answer is something like, ‘I’m in business to delight my customers and the result is I make money’, because anyone who thinks differently is not going to be able to break through and be disruptive or passionate about his or her company.

 2. Do you know your limits?  If you do, forget them – now. You have to believe that there are no boundaries. Disruptive leadership involves putting a flexible stake in the ground around a specific opportunity and then taking a series of actions that empower you to challenge assumptions and change directions as many times as possible. The frontiers of possibility move forward as you do.

 3. Do you love your ugly baby? Failures – your ugly babies - are a natural part of this process when leading disruptive innovation. and leaders who face fear of failure head on and who help their team and organizations do the same are the most prepared to use setbacks as springboards to success. Failure is one of the most important lessons they’ve turned around and used the right way. That ugly baby may have gifts you’ve overlooked. 

 4. Can you turn on a dime? The Wrigley Company started out selling baking powder and soap. Initially they gave away their gum as a perk for customers, who responded with such delight that the company shifted its entire focus to chewing gum. YouTube began as a dating website before becoming the de facto standard for sharing videos on the Web. Hasbro initially sold pencils and school supplies before stumbling on an innovative, independent inventor who sold the company the rights to Mr. Potato Head. Re-examine what you do, what you make, and what its unexplored market potential might be. Pull it apart and rethink how it goes back together, because disruptive innovation lives or dies by leadership.

Disruptive innovation requires disruptive leadership. More and more leaders and companies recognize that they must correctively disrupt or risk being disrupted. Business-as-usual leadership with big visions of detailed roadmaps and action plans does more than stifle disruptive innovation; it can literally block your path to success. Leading disruptive innovation involves adopting principles that fall outside the traditional plans of managers and leaders.

What would happen if you picked today to do something entirely unexpected, out of the ordinary, out of left field? Try it and see.